Sunday, January 03, 2010

The old wineskin of the institutional church

My wife and I were listening to the parable of the wineskins the other night and got to talking about the universality of this concept.

He also told them a parable: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (Luke 5:36-39)

Jesus is not speaking here of the church. I recognize that but I also think that this passage has application beyond the immediate context because the truth is universal. The Reformation sought to do this very thing, trying to pour New Testament Christianity into the old wineskin of Rome. I fear that most of the efforts at reformation then and now have failed for the same reason. We keep trying to use old wineskins and they keep bursting and we start all over.

What we need is a new wineskin for the church. We find the pattern and principles for this new wineskin in the New Testament if we take the time to look. I also think that we will find that it is not feasible to try to find a "good church" among the traditional churches and try to see it reformed. The old wineskin of tradition will simply not hold the New Testament church. Something Dave Black wrote in The Jesus Paradigm says something very similar:

I suspect that church institutions as they are now known are incapable of thoroughgoing renewal. It is my view that new church plants are the most likely bodies to reflect early Christianity rather than the proud establishments of Christendom. (The Jesus Paradigm, pg. 61)

I would amend that slightly: Either new church plants or existing communities that reflect New Testament church practice. It seems that doctrines like soteriology are more malleable and more subject to correction than doctrines of ecclesiology because when it comes to Christian living and discipleship the world gets at least equal billing with the Word. That may be harsh to say but it is lived out in church after church around America. If Christians are living in a sacrificial community already, that is a great place to start.

Dr. Black's greater point though holds true. It may be too late (by hundreds of years) to reform established Protestantism. There are too few people in any given church that are willing to go outside of the bounds of the traditional church (if there are any). Something far more radical may be required. Will we have the courage of conviction to take that step in the face of opposition and scorn from outside and inside the church?

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Steve Martin said...

I attend a traditional church, and it is great.

We hold up the Word (law and gospel) and the Sacraments (which are also Word).

Our people are sinners, who return again and again to hear that they are sinners in need of a Savior, and to hear just Who that Savior is, and to have His forgiveness handed over to them with NO strings attached.

We're not perfect, none of us and that includes our pastor.

We trust that the Lord will take care of His Church and work through us, and we don't lay the law on each other to make us better Christians.

It's refreshing to be around real sinners who know who and what they really are, and who know the love and forgiveness continually brought to them by their Lord.

Arthur Sido said...


If you are content with that, then I commend it to you. I see a far deeper and more meaningful community in the Scriptures, one that is not lived out in a weekly ritualized tradition but in a life lived together. I don't see how that sort of community is at all possible a couple of scripted hours each week. For me the gathering of the church is about more than listening to a sermon and "the sacraments", it is about living a life together.

Steve Martin said...

For those who wish to go beyond Christ, the Sacraments are never enough.

Then the focus shifts to the self.

You can have it.

Christ and what He has done, is doing, and will yet do, ought remain the center. If not, you get the 'great religious project' which Christ died to put an end to.

Arthur Sido said...


You don't see the ritualized "sacraments" as being the exact sort of empty religious expression that Jesus spoke against? The fact that we never see the breaking of bread ritualized in the New Testament and instead see it as an act of fellowship and community should be telling. We cannot reduce the life of a Christian to a couple of hours of repetitive religious ceremonies and think we are fulfilling the purpose and the joy of Christian community.

Steve and Paula said...

We had two families leave out little fellowship, because they claimed we were not focused purely on Christ.
They did not like the fact that we strive to be open and vulnerble towards each other in a more daily fashion.

Mr Martin,
If striving to be in Christian fellowship everyday, is focusing on self, and following the law, then I for one would appreciate a Biblical example from you.

Personally, I find that only getting together on Sunday morning and Wed, night, to be selfish.
Why deprive a fellow brother or sister.
Iron sharpens iron. But only if in contact.

Matthew talks about abiding in the vine.
Putting down stakes for good.
Not just on appointed days that we meet together.

Personally, I cannot figure out how daily fellowship is "going beyond Christ".

Steve Martin said...


Jesus commanded that we do the Sacraments (Lutherans recognize 2 only)of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

He told us to do them. That's reason # 1 that we do them. reason #2 is that we know that he never told us to do ANYTHING where He would not be present in it, for us.

Reason #3 is that it helps to keep us off the religious ladder and placing the emphasis on ourselves.

I think #3 is the real empty religious ritual.

Tim Aagard said...

I used to think just like you do. But God opened my eyes to see how corrupt institutional forms of church life really are.
1. The scripture is clear that giving is only when the gift goes beyond the givers. 2 Cor. 8 & 9 Institutional church systematizes devoting 75-85% of the giving to buy buildings and hired staff that benefits mostly the givers. This is pooling not giving. This nullifies God's commands on giving , just like the Pharisees. Matt. 15

2. The scripture is clear that leaders are to reproduce everything God has given to them into others so others can do what they do. Luke 6:40, 2 Tim. 2:2 Institutional leadership is perpetual dependency. There is almost no reproduction. A pastor can be in a church for 20 years, leave, and no on has been "fully trained" to do ANYTHING he does. This nullifies God's commands on spiritual leadership, just like the Pharisees. Matt. 15

3. The scripture is clear that the main communication dynamic for the body of Christ is two-way communication. Heb. 10:24,25, Col. 3:16, and much more. There is no instruction for one-way communication which dominates institutional forms. The scripture never says preaching or teaching is lecture. These habits nullify the commands of Gods, just like the Pharisees. Matt. 15

4. Jesus was very clear that there are to be no titles or pedestalizing of leaders into special spiritual castes. Matt. 23. He made it clear that "you are all brothers". There is no hierarchy in God's plan for HIs household of faith. Institutionalized forms completely ignore these specific instructions with their chain of commands, thus nullifying the commands of God just like the Pharisees. Matt. 15

These 4 points are only a brief list of many more corruptions.

I hope you will look up these scriptures. I pray that the living Word of God will accomplish it's rebuking, correcting, and instructing in righteousness so you may be complete and lacking nothing. You MUST be a Berean and examine what you are told from behind the pulpit with the scriptures to see if it is true. Acts 17:11 Having sat in a pew for years I KNOW what is said is not the WHOLE truth. They are very sincere, but they are sincerely wrong in their institutionalized forms.

God gave me strength to walk away from hundreds of shallow "friendships" to take up true mutuality and intimacy under the headship of Christ alone. God has replaced these spiritually shallow relationships with deep, sacrificial, modeling, intimate, one another oriented relationships that are actually REPRODUCTIVE. They bear fruit rather than dependency.

Steve Martin said...


Corruptions are at the heart of man (sin).

You find it in institutions great and small.

The Sacraments are extra nos (outside of us).

They are not corrupt, even though the people receiving them and administering them may be.

When you dismiss the real presence in the Sacraments that Jesus Himself ordered us to do, then you embark upon an internal sprituality that relys upon sight rather than faith.

Then, the ladder climbing game and fruit checking game go into full swing.

No thanks. I'll continue to rely on His righteousness and the facy that He justifies and sanctifies.

Arthur Sido said...

Jesus told us to remember Him when we break bread in community. Paul in 1 Cor 11 tells us we are declaring the Lord's death until He comes. Jesus is present with us because His followers are present, not because of bread on a table. There is nothing holy in the bread, where Christ is found is not in the loaf but in the community of believers who share the loaf. You cannot ritualize community without losing what it means to be a community. That is one of the errors of Rome.

Steve and Paula said...

I am still curious as to what you will say about my question for you.

Steve and Paula said...

I have a thought forming. Arthur, maybe you can expound upon it in a post.
By calling a Symbol, a Sacrament, the meaning and application can be tweaked, so as to take away from the true meaning of the symbol.
Its very clever......

Steve Martin said...


Christians do not need to STRIVE to be in daily fellowhip, anymore than your own children need to strive to be one of your children.

We belong to Him, and not by ANYTHING that we have done, are doing, or will yet do.

We have fellowship with Him because of what He has done, is doing, and will yet do...for us.

And you have the name change reversed. Calling the Sacrament a symbol is not biblical.

Jesus, or St. Paul never said this REPRESENTS my body...they said it IS His body.

A Sacrament is an oath (from the Latin Sacramentum, or sacred promise that the centurians used to make to their commander).

In Christianity, the Sacrament is made by Christ, to us. It is His doing. He instituted them and He is the active participant in them. We receive (in faith) what he promises.

Just to make things a bit clearer.


Steve and Paula said...

Steve, the fellowship I am referring to, and I think Arthur is referring to as well, is not fellowship with Christ. It is fellowship with fellow Believers.

Your example is intersting, because if you look at todays "family", you will see a group of people that live in the same home, but rarely eat at the table together, and spend most of the day, off doing their own thing, be it school, play or work.

This is exactly what todays believers are doing.
They are out of touch with each other.

The family that is out of touch with each other, cannot expect to remain healthy if they only get together once a week.
And the same is true for Believers.

Something that has been bugging me, is how we have taken to using the internet to gain that daily fellowship that we rightfully crave.

Woudl it not be so much better to see each other everyday for a short meeting of prayer and singing and sharing, rather then looking at a screen, striving for fellowship?

I honestly believe that modern social networking online, is a symptom of a much deeper problem. One of spiritual, fellowship starvation.

Steve Martin said...


I agree with you. There is no substitute for meeting together, worshipping together, communing together, and consoling one another.

Thanks much!